A Book from the Library of Defense

Library Collections

Webinars & Podcasts

Voluntariness of a Shaken Baby Confession

From OCDLA Library of Defense
Jump to: navigation, search

by: Ryan • May 1, 2014 • no comments

In a case called Aleman v Village of Hanover Park, Judge Richard Posner wrote a great opinion about a flawed police interrogation, among other things. In the headnotes, it's summarized in part as follows:

Arrestee's confession that had been induced by false statement was worthless as evidence, and as premise for arrest for first-degree murder of child who had been diagnosed with hematoma and was believed to be victim of shaken-baby syndrome, since false statement had destroyed information required for rational choice; arrestee, who had gently shaken baby according to training prior to administering CPR, had been told by police officers that doctors had excluded any other possible cause of child's death, and therefore it was logical for him to say that he had been responsible for child's death

Posner observed:

The question of coercion is separate from that of reliability. A coerced confession is inadmissible (and this apart from Miranda) even if amply and convincingly corroborated. Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 540–41, 81 S.Ct. 735, 5 L.Ed.2d 760 (1961); Johnson v. Trigg, 28 F.3d 639, 641 (7th Cir.1994); Parker v. Allen, 565 F.3d 1258, 1280 (11th Cir.2009). But a trick that is as likely to induce a false as a true confession renders a confession inadmissible because of its unreliability even if its voluntariness is conceded. See, e.g., Johnson v. Trigg, supra, 28 F.3d at 641. If a question has only two answers—A and B—and you tell the respondent that the answer is not A, and he has no basis for doubting you, then he is compelled by logic to “confess” that the answer is B. That was the vise the police placed Aleman in. They told him the only possible cause of Joshua's injuries was that he'd been shaken right before he collapsed; not being an expert in shaken-baby syndrome, Aleman could not deny the officers' false representation of medical opinion. And since he was the only person to have shaken Joshua immediately before Joshua's collapse, it was a logical necessity that he had been responsible for the child's death. Q.E.D. A confession so induced is worthless as evidence, and as a premise for an arrest. Crowe v. County of San Diego, 608 F.3d 406, 433 (9th Cir.2010); Wilkins v. DeReyes, 528 F.3d 790, 800–01 (10th Cir.2008).

I was reminded of this case after reading today's Court of Appeal's decision in State v. Ruiz-Piza. It's a very good opinion regarding the voluntariness of the defendant's statments. The legal analysis might be different, but a very similar bullying is going on. A bullying, I would submit, that occurs when a suspect is particularly vulnerable -- that is, when he fears he might have hurt a child.

I recommend reading both opinions whether you've got a shaken-baby case or not. If you do have a shaken-baby case, then I also recommend an article I'd previously posted on the Library of Defense website.

New research suggests that most humans aren’t capable of shaking an infant hard enough to produce the symptoms in SBS. It usually takes an accompanying blow to the head. And in about half to two-thirds of the 200 or so SBS cases prosecuted each year in the U.S., there are no outward signs of physical injury. Indeed, this is the reason SBS is such a convenient diagnosis. It allows prosecutors to charge a suspected abuser despite no outward signs of abuse. But we now know that other causes can produce these symptoms, which means that some percentage of the people convicted in SBS cases are going to prison for murders that may have never happened.

Update: Thanks to Ramon Pagan for forwarding this great opinion from Illinois calling into question shaken-baby science.

Update II: Here's a good article about the Illinois case and other SBS cases.

Update III: Another good article, this time from the Washington Post.

For more than a decade, a growing movement of doctors and engineers has questioned the science behind Shaken Baby Syndrome, long considered a serious public health threat. Testing has been unable to conclusively show if violent shaking can produce the conditions often linked to the diagnosis -- bleeding and swelling in the head and bleeding in the back of the eyes -- and doctors have found that accidents and a series of diseases can in some cases produce identical conditions in infants.

Update IV: A story from September, 2015, in the New York Times, "Shaken Baby Syndrome: A Diagnosis That Divides the Medical World"

Update V: A fascinating/frightening story out of Massachusetts where the ME has changed his mind about shaken baby diagnosis, but prosecutor won't dismiss the charges.

Update VI: A story from Britain on the science of shaken-baby convictions.

Update VII: A blog dedicated to shaken baby cases

Update VIII: Father Wrongly Convicted of Shaken Baby Syndrome Death